Our country now a dictatorship – Catholic Bishops
OUR country is now all except in designation a dictatorship and if it is not yet, then we are not far from it, says Zambia Conference of Catholic Bishops.
And the Catholic bishops say the Judiciary has let the country down by failing to stand up to political manipulation and corruption.
Meanwhile, the Catholic bishops say the PF government’s plans to kill LAZ are discreditable and hope and pray that they will fail. The ZCCB has also warned that the country is currently on the edge and may tumble if the current political situation is not taken care of.
In a statement issued yesterday on the current political situation in the country, Zambia Conference of Catholic Bishops president Telesphore Mpundu stated that there was fear and trembling among people shown in the way they were afraid to speak out against injustices.
“This is due to several actions by government which were meant to instill fear into and intimidate the masses. One does not need to belong to a political party in order for him or her to speak out on the misdeeds happening in the nation. Furthermore, we are witnesses to what transpired during the run-up to the August 2016 general elections when several media houses were harassed and finally closed. The recent happenings were not reported by several media houses because of the heavy presence of the police,” Archbishop Mpundu stated.
Our country is now all, except in designation, a dictatorship and if it is not yet, then we are not far from it. Our political leaders in the ruling party often issue intimidating statements that frighten people and make us fear for the immediate and future. This must be stopped and reversed henceforth.
In a statement to Catholic faithfuls and all people of goodwill in Zambia, he stated that people could not claim to know God if they fail to respond to and confront the injustices in our society because
to know God means to do justice” and “to do justice is to know God
Archbishop Mpundu stated that knowing God could not be separated from doing justice and from what “we do or omit to do to our neighbour”.
He stated that people who inflicted pain and suffering on fellow human beings could not claim to know God, let alone be “Christian” and deplored the massive, disproportionate and “entirely unnecessary force with which the police acted to apprehend UPND leader Hakainde Hichilema, who is facing a treason charge”.
“Would it not have been much more civilised and professional to deliver a summons to him containing a charge and ordering him to appear before the police to answer charges of alleged law breaking? The brutal way in which the police acted has only served to heighten the already considerable tension in the nation particularly between supporters of the UPND and PF,” Archbishop Mpundu stated.
“The peace that we wish for you and the nation at large in the words of St. Paul is not mere absence of war or strife. Peace means harmony, understanding, respect for and acceptance of others, respect for and even defense of divergence of opinion, wishing others well no matter who they are and what they do for a living. This peace comes from God our Father and from our Lord Jesus Christ. This peace right now is in short supply in our nation. Why?”
He stated that the continuous tension between the UPND and PF had affected the lives of many Zambians who were living in fear and not going about their business freely.
“We as Shepherds of the Catholic Church in our country are deeply saddened by the incidents of unprofessional and brutal conduct of the Police Service, the damage to the innocent citizens’ property by suspected cadres, the arbitrary arrests of and horrific torture of suspects as well as the careless, inflammatory and divisive statements of our political leaders,” he stated.
“All these are indications that our democratic culture is yet to be firmly planted, nurtured and promoted to enhance the respect for human dignity and rights. Our democratic credentials which have not been much to go by at best of times have all but vanished in this nation that loudly claims to be ‘God-fearing’, ‘peace-loving’ and ‘Christian’.”
Archbishop Mpundu stated that the nation had lamentably failed to robustly address a number of recurrent snags including those that stem from previous elections.
He stated that the current political predicament directly flows from deep-rooted problems Zambians had failed to fix or resolve, not withstanding four constitutional commissions of inquiry.
“As we have stated before, the political environment in Zambia today is characterised by manipulation, patronage and intimidation of perceived government opponents. We urge the government to stop using state security institutions to intimidate its own nationals. The police service in particular must be professional and impartial in carrying out their duties of maintaining law and order. Too many of the nation’s resources and time are wasted on politicking at the expense of real development. This culture must change for the better,” Archbishop Mpundu stated.
He stated that ideally, after a divisive election like the one held in August 2016, political leaders should have embarked on a programme of national reconciliation, building and fostering dialogue by keeping old channels in good repair and creating new ones more suited to the new situation.
Unfortunately, the Judiciary, the arm of government responsible for adjudicating between individuals and between institutions and delivering justice didn’t do much, if anything, to engender a mutually acceptable solution,
Archbishop Mpundu stated.
“We are also convinced that the big part of the problem is that politics in Zambia are still reeling in the hangover from the pre-independence political struggle which was reinforced in the One Party State. This hangover derives from the wrong perception that political competition is aimed at annihilating or totally silencing political opponents at all costs and by all means available. This is the root cause of intra and interparty intolerance and violence.”
He stated that a democratic dispensation that cherished the parliamentary democracy would like to build and consolidate respect for divergent views and for the rights of individuals and political parties to organise, associate and assemble without any undue restrictions and intimidation.
The Archbishop stated that a review of events that marked the run up to the August 2016 elections left them disappointed.
“The democratic principles we have come to know have been violated left, right and centre so that instead of going forward and consolidating our still fragile democracy, we are retrogressing and not so slowly! The political party in power is in the driving seat of the political game on the political field,” Archbishop Mpundu stated.
We, therefore, demand from the government of the day to put in place concrete measures to reverse this worrying and dangerous trend.
He applauded Zambians on the political playing field who, in spite of all sorts of provocation, were committed to peaceful means of doing politics and refrain from any violence, verbal or physical.
“We decry the bad habit which political parties in power assume immediately they make a government of using the Police Service to settle political scores and prevent their political rivals from organising, campaigning and therefore selling their vision of the country and nation to the electorate. It is the same story from one administration to the other and the present government is no exception, if not one of the best examples of the misdeed just mentioned,” Archbishop Mpundu stated.
He stated that as a result of brutalising the people through the police service, the general public was reduced to fear and the order of the day was corruption and misuse of public funds.
Anyone who criticises the government for wrongdoing is sure to have the police unleashed on him or her,
Archbishop Mpundu stated.
And Archbishop Mpundu stated that they had always been concerned about the selective application of the public order Act by the police.
“It is quite disgraceful that a quarter of a century after the return to plural politics and more than half a century of political independence from Great Britain, our governments which we put into power through our votes use the Public Order Act to oppress political opponents and prevent them from organising and assembling together political rallies and to openly express themselves instead of protecting the rights and liberties of the very people who put them into power,” Archbishop Mpundu stated.
“Paradoxically, each political party in opposition goes through the biased use of this notorious Act but once in power, they find it so useful that they do nothing to modify or repeal it. Disgraceful indeed! We hope and pray that this law will be revised and if not, then the Police Service must be required to apply it professionally and without targeting opposition political parties only.”
He noted that all efforts and financial resources the Zambian government and the donor community spent to reform the police from a British South Africa Company and British Colonial Administration Police Force to a modern Police Service had paid little, if any dividends at all.
“It is sad to see the police being used and acting like political party cadres. Police officers are supposed to and must be exemplary in following the rule of law since they are in charge of keeping law and order,” Archbishop Mpundu stated.
“We strongly appeal to the Police Service personnel to be professional in their conduct, impartial and scrupulously fair in the manner that ensures and is seen to ensure that citizens’ rights are respected, protected and not violated. We call upon the government to depoliticise the Police Service forthwith and leave them to do a professional job they have been trained for.”
On the Judiciary, Archbishop Mpundu stated that it was an open secret that the arm of government had let the country down by failing to stand up to political manipulation and corruption.
“How can one explain the failure of the Constitutional Court to hear and exhaustively conclude a presidential petition? We reiterate what we said before: ‘For some time now, there has been a persistent discourse on the state of the judiciary in Zambia with respect to its independence and impartiality. This situation has undermined public confidence in this institution. There is need to restore confidence in this important arm of government. There are also many unresolved questions of public interest that have been left hanging and unanswered by the Executive.’ Where is the Judiciary to call the Executive to attention?” he asked.
Archbishop Mundu also denounced attacks on the Law Association of Zambia and the government’s plans to undermine it.
“We believe that given optimum conditions, LAZ could play its rightful role as one of the most effective checks and balances in a true democratic dispensation. The plans to kill LAZ are discreditable and we hope and pray they will fail. Together with the Judiciary, LAZ is the last defence of citizens particularly in respect of excesses by the Executive,” he stated.
And Archbishop Mpundu stated that the process of national healing and reconciliation after last year’s election should have been priority number one for the government as the institution in the driving seat.
He stated that unfortunately, the Executive had missed the chance and that the Church mother bodies did their best but immediately after the [Cathedral of the Holy Cross] meeting, the resolutions taken and agreed to by the participating political party leaders were broken, particularly by the ruling party.
We believe strongly that now that the political party in power, because it is now in a strong position and has nothing to fear by way of electoral defeat, must be in the driving seat. The Church Mother Bodies, if called upon, are ready to come along,
Archbishop Mpundu stated.
He stated that ruling party politicians must realise that the nation they were governing was deeply divided between those who voted for UPND and those who voted for PF in the last elections.
“Let the politicians of both parties take it from us since we always have our ears close to the ground that our country now stands on the edge. It is no use playing an ostrich game by burying our heads in the sand thinking that the storm will pass away. It will not, at least not before it has done great harm to this nation,” Archbishop Mpundu warned. “The use of force and intimidation are not the solution whatsoever. Only genuine and sincere dialogue aimed at national reconciliation is the long-term solution. This reconciliation must be firmly rooted in the Christian values of Truth, Forgiveness, Peace, Unity, Social Justice and Freedom. Let us learn to burry our immediate past and rise again to new life.”
He also appealed to the Church and other religious leaders to be instruments of peace, reconciliation and unity.
“They must urge the entire membership of their flocks to be collectively and individually channels of peace and reconciliation thereby living to our Lord’s call to be the salt of the earth and the light of the world. Shepherds and the faithful together must be committed to preaching messages of peace, reconciliation and love in word and in deed. Our nation is much larger and transcends our present and future individual or collective political fortunes,” stated Archbishop Mpundu.